Joshua Brian Scaife is a fourth year dental student at Cardiff University. Joshua was elected to lead the annual volunteer trip working with the Global Brigades charity. This role involved organising and administrating a trip for twenty, fourth year students to Honduras to provide free dental care. Joshua has written this article to share his experiences and hopefully to inspire other dental students to take opportunities to use their valuable skills to help those in need across the world.
For the past four years, Cardiff University has sent a group of fourth year dental students abroad over Easter to provide a free dental clinic alongside the Global Brigades charity. This year, instead of our usual destination to Ghana, we chose to travel to Honduras! There we spent an intensive and exciting time treating hundreds of people with very serious dental needs. The Honduran people have a beautiful culture and temperament. It was our privilege to care for them and we have returned with a greater appreciation for the challenges some people face in the world and how dentists can be a vital aspect to caring for these wonderful people.
In March 2015, twenty enthusiastic dental students travelled to Honduras in Central America. Our purpose: to run a dental clinic and provide free dental care to the people of Honduras, people in dire need of healthcare and aid.
We have recently returned and have taken some time to reflect, now we would like to share a brief glimpse of what we got up to; we hope you find it inspiring...
Our trip began with a journey across land and sea which took in Cardiff, London, Washington, Houston and Tegucigalpa - a total of 40 hours and thousands of miles - the first milestone successfully reached. When we finally arrived in Honduras we were met with a warm welcome from our supporting charity workers at Global Brigades. Brief introductions informed us that these new friends would act as our coordinators, translators and guides for our time there. We also had the chance to meet our dental colleagues who would be supervising our work in Honduras and there was an instant connection and appreciation between us. The Honduran people are a humble, kind-hearted and passionate community and they welcomed us as friends.
After navigating the bustling airport in Tegucigalpa we were whisked away to our convoy of minibus and pickups and travelled to our accommodation at El Censo. Situated approximately an hour from the airport El Censo is an ex-holiday home of a rich Honduran businessman and totally surpassed our expectations! We were equally awestruck by the beauty of the country: a mix of mountains and forests under a blazing sunlight caught the eye at every turn in the road. Most journeys were spent with eyes gazing through the windows.
On arriving at the compound we were given a tour which took in the swimming pool, volleyball court and balcony overlooking the Honduran countryside that could have featured in a tourist magazine. Needless to say we were pleasantly surprised even on our first day!
Day two arrived at 5 a.m. with the wakeup call to load our trucks with clinical equipment and provisions ready for our first taste of dentistry in Honduras! We were given advance notice that we should expect about 300 patients to be attending for a dental check-up and screening - a slight increase on a usual day's treatment in the UK! We stocked the trucks and enjoyed a hearty healthy breakfast and took the 2.5 hour journey over dusty, ditched roads to arrive in El Chichicastes' village primary school where we would spend the next five days running our dental clinic.
To say conditions were basic by comparison with your local dental practice on a high street in Britain would be understating things somewhat. We essentially cleared a classroom of the usual furnishing and placed ten primary school sized chairs against a wall ready for the queues of patients to file in. Each of the students donned their matching tunics and head torches, Spanish phrase book in hand and called for a patient 'Siguiente!'. So began a morning to remember: temperatures rising and humidity stifling, we developed a routine of broken Spanish and rapid assessment. With a 15 minute lunch stop and increasingly regular water breaks we managed to assess and plan treatments for 298 patients by 2 p.m. That may sound relatively impressive, but looking at our appointment list for the next day and seeing 75 patients needing extractions and 60 needing fillings certainly brought home just how much this trip would challenge us – but the response from the team was excitement and anticipation.
Over the following four days we found our rhythm: loading supplies before sunrise, a quick breakfast and off we went to the clinic. Mornings and afternoons involved rotating students through extraction clinic, filling clinic and educational workshops for the children on oral and general health. Increasingly military style pack downs preceded a journey back as the sun set before a well-earned dinner and feedback meetings in the evening. Needless to say people slept soundly after a hefty 18 hour schedule! The team worked efficiently but maintained compassion and care for every patient even when limited by a significant language barrier.jbs6.JPG
From a statistical point of view, in four days of treatment we saw a total of 322 patients, 376 extractions, 299 fillings and 361 children attending our education workshops and receiving fluoride treatment. Every student managed to see a minimum of 10 patients for extractions and 5 patients for fillings. When faced with new equipment, a difficult working environment and an unknown patient, each of us was forced to adapt, to persevere and ultimately to provide good quality dental treatment to many individuals in great need of it. Needless to say, we all came away with greater confidence and skills that will be really valuable to our working careers as dentists; but not only that, we have seen the impact our vocation can have when put to good use in areas of lack across the world.
The patients the students saw over these days will be remembered with happiness; the lessons we learned about their country, their daily life and the struggles they face will be recalled with humility and determination to continue helping those with such need. To see teenagers, for example, that have such a poor diet, such a lack of education in personal health that they required extractions of all molar teeth and fillings on every remaining front tooth, is difficult to consolidate with the knowledge that simple measures could have prevented it.jbs3.JPG
Similarly, to be faced with elderly patients who had nothing left of their teeth but the remnants of decayed roots, presenting the risk of imminent infection, and to see their appreciation when we removed all these rotten teeth! Or a child, visibly malnourished, who was so excited and inspired by a simple 15 minute lesson on brushing their teeth that they returned the next day and the day after so they could join in again. These are the moments which inspired.
Each member of our team worked hard, adapted to their challenges and came away with a changed perspective – we see that as a successful brigade. We hope we made a positive impact in the lives of those we met and cared for, and equally in a country in serious need of positive input. All the students would like to take this opportunity to thank all our generous sponsors and donors who made this trip possible by contributing finance, dental supplies and good wishes, we are indebted to you.jbs5.JPG
If you are interested in establishing a similar brigade where you are, or if you would like to support the Global brigades charity, then please contact me at email@example.com
Joshua Brian Scaife